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Your vote for mayor in 2020

Our local elections are nonpartisan. In these days of polarization, that is something we should celebrate. Unlike our last election non-event in 2016, we have two nearly full slates to choose from, both led by current council members seeking to be mayor: Mr. Sean Spiller from the Third Ward and Dr. Renée Baskerville from the Fourth.

The notion of voting for a “slate” is pointless. There are excellent candidates on each slate. We should mix and match based upon who we believe is the best candidate. It is important to recall that except for appointing members to various township bodies, notably the Board of Education positions, the mayor is really no different from another council member in our plan 13 form of municipal government.

Regarding the mayoral race, I have strong opinions. (If you know me, this will be no surprise.) I believe there are particular facts we should consider as we decide for whom to vote. We, like any town, need local leaders without conflicts of interest of any kind, period.

An opinion piece for Baristanet in March of 2015 noted that the organization I was a part of, Montclair Kids First, believed Mr. Spiller had a conflict by sitting on the Board of School Estimate, which reviews and approves the public schools budget, given his position then of secretary of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA). Mr. Spiller disagreed, but Superior Court Judge Thomas Moore nonetheless found him conflicted as we had charged.

Alas, Mr. Spiller’s reaction was not conciliatory: “From its outset, this litigation has been straight out of the right-wing playbook used nationally to disenfranchise voters, vilify teachers and attack public education. I will continue to fight for progressive values, world-class public education and the great township of Montclair.”

Baloney. It was not a personal attack but a legitimate concern, as the judge confirmed.

Five years later, Mr. Spiller is now the vice president of the NJEA and a candidate for mayor. He seems to ignore Judge Moore’s ruling and essentially doubled down. As mayor, Mr. Spiller would chair the Board of School Estimate and have sole authority to name members to the Board of Education. Thus far, though asked, he has not addressed how he would resolve these clearly problematic issues.

We have all received the glossy promotional messages. Mr. Spiller’s campaign is run by Henry DeKoninck, who managed Mayor Jackson’s campaign in 2012. If his last name is familiar, his mother was named a Board of Education member by Mayor Jackson.

Those connections concern me, but nowhere near as much as the magnitude of the professional, very well-funded campaign Mr. Spiller is running.

Thanks to the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission’s online tool, it is easy to learn that in 2016, Mr. Spiller raised at least 12 times as much money as his opponent, who ended up giving much of her meager campaign funds to other candidates. Less than a quarter of his total came from addresses with a Montclair zip code, and large contributions from outside Montclair were made by, among others, the NJEA and other unions (note that the online search also provides current information on donations for the 2020 election, which you may also search. The donation pattern to Mr. Spiller is the same). Is this a Montclair election or an N.J. one?

Why were they so interested in a municipal election for a council seat? No matter how long I think, I can only come up with one logical reason.

There are many issues for us to consider when we decide for which mayoral candidate to vote, and of course we also have Mr. Spiller’s last eight years of service as Third Ward councilman to review, but these should be high on the list. If you agree, please join me in asking Mr. Spiller to fully detail why we should not be concerned. When I consider the Montclair “ideal,” I believe an honest explanation for all of us of the issues above is where Mr. Spiller should start.

Jonathan Bonesteel
Montclair

A message from Freeholder President Gill

Greetings fellow residents of Essex County.

When addressing the Essex County community at large, I usually do so as president of the Board of Chosen Freeholders. On this occasion, under these unprecedented circumstances, I am expressing my thoughts as a father, a son, a husband, and a concerned neighbor who loves his community.

The spread of the COVID-19 virus has affected so many of us in my hometown of Montclair, Essex County, and the entire world. On behalf of my family, I offer condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one, and I offer my prayers to all individuals and their families who are currently dealing with any negative ramifications brought on by this pandemic.

It is important we all understand — the strong do not struggle alone, the strong struggle together. We are a strong community, and we will get through this trying time together, as a community. The efforts of our healthcare workers, community service organizations, and countless concerned citizens have not gone unnoticed, and I thank the members of these groups for their selfless acts. While they are assisting our neighbors on the front lines of this battle, we as government leaders will continue to work together, share information, and put measures in place to ensure all those in need receive the finest care possible.

I thank Governor Murphy for his unwavering leadership during this time. I also thank our county executive, Joe DiVincenzo, my colleagues on the freeholder board, members of law enforcement, and other county and municipal agencies for their diligence in continuing to provide critical services for our citizens, while pooling resources to set up COVID-19 testing sites for our residents showing symptoms of the virus.

Through hard work and fast-track planning, we were able to open a COVID-19 testing center in Weequahic Park last week. We have successfully tested hundreds of people in the first few days of operations, and we will continue to increase our testing capabilities as we move forward. While we are combatting COVID-19 from a healthcare standpoint, we as individuals must continue to follow the social distancing guidelines mandated by our governor. We all need to do our part in flattening the curve of the spread of this virus. At the same time, we must recognize that each day is a blessing. Although social distancing has been imposed as a measure of protection against the coronavirus pandemic, it has also presented us with an opportunity to come closer together with our families.

From a personal standpoint, it brought me a great sense of joy and comfort to carry on the tradition of having Friday Night Pizza with my wife and children. Whether you have a game night or a video call with a family member or friend, we should embrace this opportunity to come closer together as families, and as a community. I implore everyone to spend quality time with your loved ones, while those of us in government work tirelessly to serve you for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, and celebrate with you when this pandemic comes to an end.

If I can be of any assistance, please contact my office via phone at 973-621-4486, or contact me directly via email at bgill@freeholders.essexcountynj.org.

Stay home and stay safe.

Brendan W. Gill
Montclair
The author is president of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the legislative body of the Essex County government.

Keep your distance, please

Kudos to Brookdale ShopRite for its efforts to maintain staff and shopper safety during this pandemic. The store has been very proactive in terms of managing cashier lines, creating senior shopping hours and establishing one-way traffic aisles and protective plexiglass for cashiers and customer service. Once again, the store demonstrates its commitment to our communities.

However, there is only so much businesses can do — the rest is up to shoppers. Based on my recent experiences, we have met the enemy, and it is us! 

Despite rapid spread of the virus and continued warnings from the experts, there are still many shoppers ignoring social distance guidelines, stepping in front of others to grab supplies, passing too closely in the aisles, coughing or sneezing in an unsafe way. 

No surprise that Essex County is #2 in COVID cases and deaths across New Jersey. This is not the time to be going for the gold! 

Are we all in this together? Then let’s prove it by observing the guidelines that will keep all of us safe.

Cynthia Cox
Montclair

Support our restaurants

Many of us in the greater Montclair-Glen Ridge-Bloomfield area have been able to enjoy the annual Glen Ridge OctoberFeast because of the support of the participating restaurants and sponsors. 

We are all hoping that the coronavirus situation improves soon and that we will be able to return to our normal lives. In the interim, we wanted to take this moment to encourage our residents to support the restaurants and sponsors who have supported us. It is through their generosity that Kiwanis is able to provide programs such as scholarships for students, sponsoring youth service groups, helping buy a new ambulance, and many other civic projects. 

We encourage you to support our OctoberFeast restaurants through this coronavirus pandemic. 

Carl Bergmanson
Glen Ridge
The author is president of the Kiwanis Club of Glen Ridge.

Passive parks should remain open

Banning people from parks may be the most counterproductive rule that has emerged during this virus. It is important for people to nourish their health these days, and one important step is exercise. Since exercise centers are closed, the major exercise is walking and running.

Essex County provides parks with wide paths that are much safer than local sidewalks. People should be encouraged to keep a greater distance from each other than is possible on sidewalks.

I was shocked when a neighbor told me that a police officer in a car driving on a Brookdale Park path told them they must stay off the county park paths. I can understand closing the dog parks, running track, and the children’s playgrounds because people tend to be near each other in these. However, the park paths are a safe place for people to exercise.

Furthermore, driving a motor vehicle on pedestrian paths is dangerous, and should be done only in extreme situations.

Pat Kenschaft
Montclair

Let ICE detainees out during this crisis

Our county executive, Joseph DiVincenzo, has been infected with COVID-19. He knows this because he has health insurance, access to testing, and excellent health care. The same cannot be said of the ICE detainees in the Essex County Correctional Facility. Justice and human decency demand that they be freed before they are infected and some of them die. Keeping them imprisoned is a de facto death sentence in a system ostensibly not designed to administer capital punishment at random. As Cristian Sánchez, an immigration attorney, observes: “For everyone held captive by ICE, the threat of an outbreak of COVID-19 has been terrifying.”

It is impolitic for politicians who value their power to say such things out loud, and we should not wait for them to do so. Instead, the citizens of Essex County should ask their freeholders, Reps. Sherrill and Payne, Sens. Booker and Menendez, and Governor Murphy to prevail upon ICE and Mr. DiVincenzo to release the population of the ECCF before the unspeakable occurs. Surely Democrats can manage to flock together when death is on the line.

Anthony Lioi
Montclair

In these unprecedented times

We are living in unprecedented times, the entire world is focusing on the coronavirus pandemic, and many people are facing their mortality. It’s random and unpredictable. Every adult needs to be prepared, regardless of age, in case you or your loved ones face serious illness. No matter how you are affected, you have a chance now to be prepared. 

With life coming to a near-standstill, it’s time to have these important conversations with the people who mean the most to you. To ask them about the kind of medical care they want or don’t want in times of serious illness. If you haven’t had those conversations yet, now is the time.

Because of the national emergency before us, Aging with Dignity has decided to take the unprecedented step of making the Five Wishes document available online to individuals at no cost. Use it for yourself. Use it for your parents, spouse, siblings, adult children, extended family, and friends. Just use it! It can be accessed at https://fivewishes.org/five-wishes-covid-19.

So get a Five Wishes and seek out the people who matter most to you, and start with the following messages: 

  • There’s been something on my mind and now is a good time to bring it up.
  • You matter to me and I care about you.
  • You can count on me to be there for you.
  • I want to do the right things for you when you need them the most.
  • I don’t know your wishes, so please tell me them so I can honor them whether I agree with them or not. 

Use any one of those statements as an opening to a conversation if the subject turns to the coronavirus or related issues.

And because April includes National Healthcare Decisions Day (April 16) when national and local organizations bring focus to the importance of completing one’s medical advance directive, we will be hosting instructional LIVE sessions via Zoom in conjunction with the New Jersey Healthcare Quality Institute’s Conversations of Your Life initiative (COYL). 

As the Essex County task force chair for the #COYL initiative, I’ve collaborated with Caren Martineau, founder of bevival.com, a death literacy content platform and home for “Dying to Know Day,” America’s annual death literacy awareness campaign (D2KDUSA.com) in creating educational programs around end-of-life care planning.

Tracy Silverberg-Urian
Montclair

Why not shut down leaf blowers?

I don’t know why I’m wasting my time writing this since nothing will be done about it (article in Montclair Local, April 2). 

A worker with a backpack leaf blower is surely more productive than someone using a rake. Landscapers are being practical. They want to make a profit. 

But we in Montclair are trading our serenity for the convenience of a commercial entity. I’m not saying that landscapers should be shut down. I’m saying that gas-powered leaf blowers are extremely noisy, and the way that they are used — pushing every leaf and twig out into the street and then pushing the debris back to the curb for pickup — creates a nasty plume of debris. The noise precludes the peaceful enjoyment of my property when I am home, and when I get out for a walk, the airborne debris makes it an unpleasant experience. 

During this time of social distancing, taking a walk is one of the few things a person can do to break our isolation, but it can be ruined by having several landscapers working the same block. Who does this town belong to, anyway? 

To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, let them use rakes!

David Oguss
Montclair

The available news

It appears to me the current TV/radio news channels fail, lacking intelligent questions and resulting sorrowfully in increasing public fear in their utterances. Daily stock market reporting is worse, including the many experts who preach. 

Unbelievably, TV advertising, — 10 commercials/program breaks — only add to the mass public fear as everyone must stay at home in April. People must stay at home, so how can they buy items advertised? 

Government ought to address this behavior.

Jay Weinstein
Montclair